Owain and the Lady of the Fountain
Introduction to the Fountain
The tale of Owain, or The Lady of the Fountain, (Owain ap Urien, neu Iarlles y Ffynon) is an early Arthurian tale. Historically, Arthur is considered to have been a warlord, uniting the Brythonic tribes against the invading Angles and Saxons. The earlier tales make no mention of the invasion, their other worldly adventures seem to suggest that Arthur and his companions were pre-Christian deities whose stories were modified to make them acceptable to post conversion Christians.
This tale is translated from Llyfr Goch Hergest The Red Book of Hergest. I use the original names of the heroes though they are better known by their Norman/French adaptations. Owain is Owen, Cei is Kay, Gwalchmai is Gawaine, Gwenhwyfar is Guinevere. The name of the Lady of the Fountain is never given, the other heroine of the tale is Luned. Her relationship with Owain is an example of courtly love, defined as a deep and enduring devotion, devoid of sexual passion. Another point worth mentioning is that the people from Africa were known as “Moors” and a black man would be called “Moorish” Arthurian tales occasionally include Moors. In this tale there is mention of a Moorish giant, perhaps to emphasize how far Owain has travelled.
Cynon ap Clydno and the Fountain.
The tale begins with Arthur and his companions enjoying each others company. Arthur retires and the companions regale each other with tales. Cynon ap Clydno speaks of a far off land that he journeyed to, a wondrous fountain that he dared to approach and his battle with the guardian of the fountain. Cynon admits to losing the fight, having his horse confiscated and being forced to walk back to where he could be assisted. Hearing this tale, Owain determines that he will seek out this fountain and face the guardian.
Owain travelled through distant lands and Desert Mountains until he came to the valley that Cynon had described. Following the course of the river he finally saw the great castle and was greeted most courteously by the Lord of that place. He was invited to enjoy the hospitality of the castle, his horse was tended to and that evening he sat down to a splendid meal. During the course of the repast his host inquired of the reason for Owain’s travels. Owain replied; “I seek the guardian of the Fountain.” The Lord of the Castle was unwilling at first to give directions but, at Owain’s insistence he did so. The next morning Owain found his horse fresh and ready saddled. He followed the directions into a forest. In a clearing in the forest he saw a Moor, twice the size of any man he had ever seen. In his hand was an iron club. His manners were gruff and discourteous but he directed Owain on the way he should go.
Following the giant’s directions Owain came to a stone fountain, surrounded by trees. There was a bowl fastened to the stone by an iron chain. Owain filled the bowl with water and threw the water against the stone slab. At once the sky darkened and there came a terrible hailstorm that threatened to tear the skin from bone. Placing his shield over his horse’s head he weathered the storm until suddenly it stopped. The sky cleared but when he looked at the trees, not a leaf was left on any branch. Birds came and sat on the branches, they began to sing and their song was the most melodious that Owain had ever heard. All of this befell exactly as told by Cynon.
Owain and the Guardian of the Fountain
Owain turned to the sound of horses hooves. Riding towards him was a man clad in black armor and a black helmet hiding his features. As he drew near the black knight drew his sword;
“What offense have I caused you?” asked Owain, “That you should draw your sword against me.”
“I am guardian of this fountain” said the black knight, “None may approach without my Ladies leave.”
Then he attacked Owain and they fought long and hard until a blow from Owain pierced the black knight’s helmet and cut him deeply. Realizing he had received a fatal wound, the black knight turned his horse and rode away with Owain in pursuit. Soon they came to a castle. The black knight rode through and as soon as he was through the inner gate, both gates dropped. The outer one narrowly missed Owain but it struck his horse just behind the saddle, so the horse fell dead with Owain trapped between the inner and outer gates.
Owain and Luned
While in this perplexed condition he saw, through the gate, a maiden approaching him. She gazed at him through the gate for a little while and then said;
“It is very sad that you cannot be released, and every woman ought to aid you, for I never saw one more faithful in the service of ladies than you. As a friend you are the most sincere, and as a lover the most devoted. Therefore, whatever is in my power to do for your release, I will do. Take this ring and put it on your finger, with the stone inside your hand. Close your hand upon the stone. And as long as you conceal it, it will conceal you. When they have consulted together, they will come to fetch you to put you to death. They will be much grieved that they cannot find you. I will wait for you on the horseblock yonder; you will be able to see me, though I cannot see you. Come and place your hand upon my shoulder so I may know that you are near me. Then follow me.”
Everything worked as planned. When men from the castle came to take Owain they could not see him, they only saw the dead horse. He slipped away and followed the maiden to her home where he was able to bathe and she gave him food. While resting he heard a clamor outside and asked Luned, for that was the maiden’s name, what was the reason for such an outcry.
“The Nobleman who owns this castle is dead, they are preparing for his funeral tomorrow.” Said Luned.
The next morning Owain looked out and saw a vast throng. By their raiment they were noble and common alike all paying homage to the Nobleman. The coffin was carried on the shoulders of six men, none of whom had a rank less than that of Baron. Behind this train walked the most beautiful woman Owain had ever seen. Her long fair hair was stained with blood and the yellow satin robe she wore was torn but when Owain saw her he was inflamed by love.
“Who is this woman?” he asked Luned.
“She is my mistress,” replied Luned, “She is known as the Lady of the Fountain, the wife of the one you slew yesterday.”
“Yet she is the woman I love better than all others.” Said Owain.
Luned gazed into the fireplace as though she were gazing into the future itself. At length she replied. “And she will love you most of all.”
TO BE CONTINUED
The next part of the story will deal with Owain meeting the Lady of the Fountain, the woman he made a widow. What happens when Arthur and his companions come searching for Owain, thinking him killed, how Owain fights his cousin Gwalchmai and how he disappoints the Lady and Luned.